How to apply a varnish to an Acrylic Painting

by Will Kemp

in acrylic painting

varnishing_an acrylic paintingAn uneven finish in your painting, some parts matte, other parts glossy can be very off-putting to the viewer.

A unified finish enhances the colours and is a great way to add both a professional finish to your paintings and add dollars to the sale price.

No one technique for varnishing suits every situation. The texture of the paint surface, the desired finish, speed of completion, etc all affect which technique is best to use.

On a side note, it’s also the number 1 trick to making your acrylic paintings look like oils…

Varnishing Acrylic Paintings

What exactly is a Varnish?
A thin protective layer between the finished painting and the atmosphere. It should be transparent, colourless and form a good bond with the paint surface yet still be removable without affecting the painting. It is usually a combination of a resin and a solvent and applied to the painting when it it thoroughly dry – with acrylics this can be within 24 hrs.

Acrylics attract dirt
Acrylics are different than oils because they are more flexible when they dry leaving a softer exterior than oils.

This makes it easier for dirt and dust to adhere to, this soft skin can make removal of varnish tricky so some tutors advice placing your acrylics behind glass and not varnishing.

However, I have always varnished my paintings following a proper procedure as I prefer the aesthetic without glass.

With the right varnish and technique, it can not only benefit the longevity of the painting but enhance the finish – turning matte to gloss and bringing the colours to a new vibrancy.

Why?

When acrylic paint dries and the water evaporates off, small droplets of the polymer (the binder of acrylic paints is an acrylic polymer) join together to form one mass – this holds the key to the softness.

They also leave very tiny micro pores that are left open to the elements and these again collect dust.

If you cover the paint with a harder surface it will help to protect it from extremes in temperature or humidity, it also provides a layer than can be cleaned, rather than trying to remove dust particles ingrained in the paint layer.

If in future the varnish will need to be removed, taking away all the dust and dirt with it, and replaced with a fresh coat you need to be able to wipe the varnish back without disturbing the paint. For this you need an isolation coat.

What is an isolation coat?

An isolation coat is a transparent layer of medium that physically separates the underlying layer of paint from the varnish to be applied.

When a solvent is used to dissolve the varnish, the isolating layer will prevent it from reaching the paint layers, where damage could occur.

Golden Soft Gel (Gloss) thinned with water is a suitable isolation coat. It provides adequate leveling and foam release. See (How to apply an isolation coat to acrylics)

Pro tip: The isolating layer is also of critical importance when applying a matte varnish over an absorbent surface to prevent a cloudy or “frosted” appearance from occurring. This frosted appearance results from the varnish and solvent being absorbed into the support, while the matting agent remains exposed on the surface, where it appears as a white solid.

Think of it like a wedding cake.

The cake mix is the paint, soft and moveable. The next marzipan layer is the isolation coat, slightly thicker but still flexible, the final icing layer is the varnish – harder, slightly more brittle but protects the cake inside.

Step 1: Should I choose spray or brush?

I recommend a brush varnish for works that are quite smooth in finish and are non moveable. i.e acrylics, oils. However, if the surface is too impasto pools of varnish will settle in the nooks.

I’ll always assess the surface and texture to see what is more applicable, brush or spray. If you have delicate multimedia pieces or highly textural works spray varnish will be the way to go.

Pro tip: If you are using pastels or chalk it it advisable to fix them first with a pastel fixative.

How to prepare for varnishing with a brush

  • Make sure you have applied an isolation coat.
  • Wipe over the surface with a lint free cloth. Make sure it is clean and dry.
  • Place your painting on the horizontal in a dust free room. If you are varnishing the sides of a canvas you can slightly raise each corner with a small piece of wood so the painting doesn’t stick to the surface below.
  • Use a clean brush and then only use this brush for varnishing, it will be tempting if you are in a rush to use another brush that you ‘think’ is completely clean. I’ve done it before and the polyurethane loosened off dried on acrylic paint and went over the painting, not a good idea.
  • Find a clean jar, same reason as the brush, varnish loves clean!
  • A flat, dust free area. You need to be able to leave the painting in this position for an hour or two

Step 2: How to apply a varnish with a brush

1. Get a clean, wide brush – I usually use a 2 inch flat nylon brush, you can use a ‘varnish’ brush but it is not essential. I wouldn’t recommend a decorators brush as it will show too many brush marks, you want a brush that is smooth to the touch so you can just glide it over the surface.

2. Pour out some varnish into a shallow dish. It is easier to control the amount of varnish on your brush this way.

3. Lay your work on a board -I use a piece of mdf, or newspaper, you are bound to get some overspray and/or drips.

4. You need to work quick but gently – Apply in long even strokes to cover the surface top to bottom while moving from one side to the other.

5. Work side to side, left to right, slightly overlapping each stroke – you are aiming to have no visible brush-marks

6. Once you leave an area, do not go back over areas that you have done. If you do, you risk dragging partially dry resin into wet, which will dry cloudy over dark colors. If you missed any areas, allow to dry completely and re-varnish. 3 thin coats is better than 1 thick one.

7. After varnishing. I often cover my painting with a board slightly larger than the canvas, resting it on props so it hovers and reduces the amount of dust that could fall on the wet varnish layer. Alternatively with large canvass I will prop them facing a wall when the varnish is semi dry.

How to apply a spray varnish

  • Wipe over the surface with a lint free cloth. Make sure it is clean and dry.
  • Place your painting vertically in a dust free room. This is very important, it won’t attract as much dust as horizontally and prevents you from being over heavy handed – creating runs.
  • Place your painting on top of a board that is larger than the canvas.
  • Shake, Shake, Shake… and then shake some more. This is the bit you read on the back of a can and then shake for 10 seconds and eagerly start spraying. Put a timer on your phone, anything to ensure you shake that can for 2 minutes, it’s worth it for an even finish.
  • Apply the spray at an even distance away from the canvas. At least 30 cms away, it’s a natural tendency to move your arm closer to the canvas, so just be aware of this.
  • Regularly check the nozzle for blockages. It’s the nature of spray varnishes to become blocked really easily but I keep a rag next to me and a practice canvas so I can clean the nozzle, check the spray flow on the practice canvas and go again for real. I find I have to do this several times when I’m spraying a varnish.
  • Shake, Shake, Shake… and then shake again.
  • Over spray the edge. Start before the canvas and finish after the canvas spraying the board underneath. This ensures an even coverage.
  • Work in thin layers. 2-3 layers should be fine, but can be as many as 20 – 50 for a super glassy effect. This is personal preference, so experiment.

Understanding the 7 key functions of a Varnish

1. Change the surface finish to gloss
2. Making the surface more matte
3. Provide a more unified finish to the various areas of a painting
4. Increase color saturation
5. Protection for the paint surface
6. Allow for ease of cleaning
7. Protection from UV radiation

Increase color saturation & sheen

Have you ever noticed how much better paving look when it’s raining? The reflection of the water on the paving slabs makes them look fantastic, the same is true of colours in paintings.

When a permanent gloss sheen is on a pigment it looks richer and more saturated.

In an Oil painting initially it is the oil that gives the glossy effect, however, over time as the oil dries out it is actually the varnish that gives the sheen.

Different finishes of the same brand can usually be intermixed within each product type or used sequentially, to achieve any desired level of gloss.

Pro tip: A word of warning when using a matte varnish, if not correctly mixed the matting agent (which is white) can sometimes leave a milky finish to your paintings. This is particularly noticeable on blacks.

Protection & ease of cleaning for the paint surface

As varnish has a harder surface than the dried Acrylic paint it helps protect it.

When an isolation coat and varnish are applied correctly, the painting will be able to be cleaned easily. Used correctly the thinners used to remove the varnish will not penetrate the isolation coat and damage the paint film.

Protection from UV radiation

Ultra Violet Light Stabilizers, which can be found in some modern varnishes disperse UV radiation before they hit the surface of a painting. These varnishes are especially useful if you’re using materials that haven’t got a great lightfastness. It won’t render the surface completely lightfast but will considerable lessen the effects.

If you have any other questions about varnishing leave a comment in the box below.

You might also like:

1. James Bernstein, Conservator of Fine Paintings offers a more technical description of varnishing acrylic paintings on the Golden Acrylic website.
2.How to apply an Isolation Coat to an acrylic painting

 

 

 

{ 149 comments… read them below or add one }

Kim Foale December 1, 2011

Hi I came over from DPS. I am an Australian ceramist and the only painting I have ever done was in high school. I have nearly finished a sketchbook for the sketch book project 2012 and I have used poster paints on the pages and I will collage some text and some images into the sketchbook as well. I was wondering how to seal the pages as this sketchbook will be housed in the Brooklyn Art library and will be handled often. Thanks for the tip about the sealer coat. cheers Kim

Reply

Will Kemp December 1, 2011

Hi Kim,
Nice to hear from you,
The medium that I mentioned to create the isolation coat “Golden – Soft Gel Gloss” can also be used to great effect for collage techniques. Instead of diluting it with water you use it neat, straight from the tub.
This will be perfect to seal the pages as well, it really is a magic medium!
Either paint both sides of the image you want to collage with the medium and attach to the sketchbook or cover the page with a coat of medium, stick your image on, wait for it to dry and then cover with another layer of medium to seal it.
It is surprisingly sticky and is also available as a Matte medium which might give a better aesthetic for your sketchbook project. The only thing to be careful of is buckling. If the paper is very thin you might get slight buckling. Try it with a test piece first. But as the sketchbook project paper sizes are quite small it should be fine. Good luck with your sketchbook!
Will

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Kim Foale December 1, 2011

Thank you Will. I shall follow your advice. Here is a link to the blog post I wrote about the project. http://frogpondsrock.com/2011/11/how-to-make-a-dead-albatross-bowl-the-sketch-book-project-2012/

cheers Kim

Reply

Will Kemp December 1, 2011

You’re welcome Kim,
Thanks for the link to your post. I too had been struck by Chris Jordan’s photographs. If you do use the matte medium to seal your sketchbook it will act as a both a strong physical and conceptual idea.
The acrylic medium is a plastic, the very thing that is damaging the birds, but will act as a protection to your thoughts and ideas on the issue.
Will

Reply

Kim Foale December 1, 2011

Chris Jordan was lovely in person as well. But the most important thing to come from that meeting was my subsequent friendship with Dr Jenn Lavers. Dr Lavers has given me some cigarette lighters that were responsible in part for the deaths of Laysan Albatross Chicks, just before they were due for their first flight. They provide powerful inspiration.
I didn’t even think that the acrylic medium was a plastic, that is indeed food for thought.

Reply

Jay Shah January 24, 2012

Mr. Kemp,

Is there a particular varnish you can recommend?

Thanks

Jay

Reply

Will Kemp January 24, 2012

I use the Golden range of varnishes for Acrylics and Winsor and Newton gloss varnish, for Oil paints.

Will

Reply

Stephanie Oliveira March 12, 2014

Thank you so much for all of your detailed helpful tips. This has been very informative.

Reply

Will Kemp March 13, 2014

Good one Stephanie, pleased you found them helpful.
Cheers,
Will

Reply

Griffin Clark August 4, 2012

Hey Will,

I was wondering what the difference is Cabot or Rustoleum varnish compared to that of Golden or Liquitex. Can the the more industrial based products be used on acrylic paintings? The only reason I ask this is because I have large acrylic paintings ( measuring anywhere from 4ft x 4ft to 8ft x 20ft) on wooden panels that i would like to seal. However, like many artists I am running into the issue of the cost of products compared with the size of my work.

Thanks,
Griffin

Reply

Will Kemp August 4, 2012

Hi Griffin,

Thanks for dropping by! Mmm I see your issue with that sized canvas, what a painting!
I personally haven’t used the more industrial varnishes on my paintings so it is hard for me to say with confidence. When I was a student I painted a large acrylic canvas with yacht varnish as I wanted a super glossy effect and also didn’t have the funds, the main downside was a yellowing over time, and no way of removing/reapplying another coat.

I put it down to trying to achieve that ‘old master glow’! and quite liked the aesthetic. Also, often household varnishes ( as with household paints) are designed to be repainted every 5-10 years so aren’t as archivally sound. However, for that sort of scale I appreciate the concern of going artist quality. If you don’t mind a slight yellowing and don’t mind if you can’t remove it then give it a go. A small trial run is always advisable as all varnishes differ from manufacture to manufacture.

Hope this helps,
Will

Reply

Ellen August 15, 2012

I am starting to do mixed media collages with acrylics. am wondering if I really need to use a varnish as a topcoat? or can I get away with just using a gel medium on top….I bought the Golden varnishes to try out since they are UVLS. I want to be able to say my work is protected from UV damage/fading but now I notice the Golden polymer mediums and gel mediums also say they offer some UV protection. are most people using varnishes doing whole paintings? my work will have some paint brushed on top of collaged papers but that is all. I know one collage artist who uses Golden Self Leveling Gel as a topcoat. is that advisable? it feels quite sticky so I wonder if it would attract dust.

Reply

Will Kemp August 16, 2012

Hi Ellen,

Golden Gel Topcoat with UVLS will give your collages a pretty good amount of protection, without the need for varnishing.
This product has better UVLS protection than the other Golden mediums (for example, self leveling gel), which only have UV resistance, so could be the perfect choice for your work.

Varnishing is up to the individual, it does add a higher level of protection, but you can always add a coat of varnish on top of the Golden Gel Topcoat if you change your mind in the future.

Thanks,

Will

Reply

Ellen August 17, 2012

thx, I will use the topcoat instead. I had written that down somewhere and then misplaced my notes! it is confusing with all the different Golden products. I would rather use the less toxic ones.

Reply

Janet Hoover August 23, 2012

I am new to painting and I just varnished my acrylic painting on canvas with Liquitex gloss varnish. I followed instructions I found from different sites on how to apply. They all pretty much said same thing. The first thin coat looked really nice after drying. So I put the second coat on going in right angles to first coat as the instructions stated. While brushing it on it seemed like it went well but upon drying it showed itself in bands the width of the brush. After letting it dry I assumed a third coat in the direction of the first would take care of it but it didn’t. I don’t know what happened other than I was told that maybe I didn’t allow enough drying time before re-coating. That may be the reason and I will know better next time , but is there a way to fix it? The gloss is permanent. I am looking for a solution to fix this painting.

Reply

Will Kemp August 24, 2012

Hi Janet,

Oh no! What a shame, there is a solution, but it would involve adding a lot more coats of varnish until the levels have evened out again ( some oil paintings have over 20 coats of varnish to create a glass like sheen)

You can build up these layers useing an acrylic spray varnish, this enables you to adjust the thickness of the varnish in very thin layers, Golden and winsor and newton make a spray varnish for acrylics.

There is a video on youtube showing you how to apply Golden Archival spray varnish.

It sounds like the second layer you applied was just a little too thick, and the varnish was pushed to the edges of the brush. Good luck in bringing the painting back from the brink!

Thanks,
Will

Reply

Yuval September 20, 2012

Hi Will,

Is it a good idea to use water based Golden’s polymer varnish for acrylics? I know it’s non removable.

Thanks,
Yuval

Reply

Will Kemp September 20, 2012

Hi Yuval,

The Golden polymer varnish is a nice varnish, it is a removable varnish, as all god varnishes should be.

The following is from the Golden Acrylic website:

” Polymer Varnish remains soluble in alkaline solvents, such as ammonia. This means the varnish can be easily removed; taking with it any accumulated surface contamination without damaging the painting surface. The use of such a removable varnish provides a valuable tool to anyone trying to restore or clean a painting.”

Thanks,
Will

Reply

Yuval September 20, 2012

Hi Will,
Great news since I’ve already bought it on a recommendation of the sellerperson at a local store.

Thanks for your help,
Yuval

Reply

Lauren October 6, 2012

Hi Will,

I’m a hobbyist painter. I just self-study and been reading your articles :) I need your help.. Its just recently that I started making big artworks (3×4′, 4×4).. My problem is.. the gloss varnish I applied didn’t look even. I can see parts that looked like there’s no varnish and some parts that are shiny.

It’s bothering me.. :( I use acrylics by the way and most of my paintings are a bit textured.

I put 2 coats of gloss varnish already.. I’m scared to apply another coat as this may ruin it even more. I didn’t apply any isolation coat coz for some reason, I couldn’t find any. Bummer.. Please help me.. I plan on selling my pieces and this problem hinders me for doing so.. Is there a way to correct it?

Thanks so much!
Lauren

Reply

Will Kemp October 6, 2012

Hi Lauren,

You are not alone! trying to achieve an even sheen with a gloss varnish on that scale of painting is an art in itself. I would recommend using a spray varnish as it will be easier to achieve an even sheen. Make sure you shake the can for at least 2 minutes though to get a perfect finish. I would set a timer for 2 minutes and shake for that long, because its longer than you think!

Also, keep the varnish in the same room as the painting so the varnish has ‘warmed up a bit’ you don’t want to spray a cold varnish in a warm room.

Good luck,
Will

Reply

Lauren October 9, 2012

Hi Will!

Thanks so much for the great tip! I really hope I’ll be able to find a spray varnish around here..

Few more questions here, sorry..

How soon can I apply another coat?

Should I spray in one direction only or it doesn’t matter as long I’ll be able to cover the whole canvas?

Should I still use a gloss spray?

What brand can you recommend? My apologies for the questions.. Just wanna make it right. Thanks soo much, Will!!! :)

Lauren

Reply

Will Kemp October 9, 2012

Hi Lauren,

As soon as the varnish is touch dry underneath you can spray ontop.

The brand I usually use are ‘Golden’ and ‘Winsor & Newton’ they both do an acrylic spray varnish.

Personally I would continue with the gloss varnish.

Spray one thin coat one direction, check how it looks, and if it needs another coat turn the canvas 45 degrees and apply another thin coat. Continue in this manner until you have the perfect Varnish finish!

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Lauren October 10, 2012

Hi Will,

Thanks so much for the great advice and tips!! :)

Cheers,
Lauren

Reply

Michael October 11, 2012

Hi,
I have been using various paints on my canvases, I have even used at times Benjamin moore household paints as i like the flow better. I just recently finished a painting using household acrylic paint and I then applied a matt non-removable acrylic varnish. After a couple of days and due to potential lightfastness issues, I then sprayed it with a UV removable acrylic varnish. My question is, can the first non-removable varnish be considered as a top coat and secondly, is it ok to mix both varnished the way I have?

Best,
M

Reply

Will Kemp October 16, 2012

Hi Michael,

The biggest difference will be the potential yellowing of the Matt non-removable acrylic varnish, if it is not an archival artist varnish.
You could consider it a top coat, however I personally recommend an isolation coat as this is archival.

Thanks,

Will

Reply

Connie Capone October 21, 2012

Hi Will,
I have a question about texturing my canvas. My friend took an art class and they used ceramic tile adhesive to texture the canvas. I’ve done several paintings with it and it seems to work great. She also varnishes with valspar unique interior faux finish clear protection. It is a non yellowing finish that comes in satin, matte and glossy. Both of these techniques seem to work wonderfully and produce beautiful finished paintings. Just wondering what you think of doing this and whether you think these products are suitable for this use.
Thanks, Connie

Reply

Will Kemp October 22, 2012

Hi Connie,

Personally I use materials that are tested for their archival qualities and are artist quality. I haven’t use either of the materials you mentioned so couldn’t comment if they are suitable. However, if you are getting good results and are pleased with them carry on using them.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

abhati November 19, 2012

Hi Will,
I have been painting for a few years now and discovering new ideas and learning on my own. I recently started painting portraits with acrylics but since I dont feel comfortable using acrylics on the face I have used oil paint(Burnt Umber) for the face and skin.For the ornaments and clothing I used acrylics. I have done this on a 30inch by 36inch canvas. I am not sure how to give it a finish now as I used both mediums.
I request you to help me on the fininshing.
Thanks alot for all your articles they really help me.
regards
Abhati

Reply

Will Kemp November 19, 2012

Hi Abhati,

It can be tricky when working with both mediums as the solvents used to remove an oil varnish can remove the acrylic paint if you’re not too careful.

So, ideally, you would paint your acrylic, apply an isolation coat to protect the acrylic.

Then paint your oil paint and apply a coat of removable varnish, such as Soluvar from Liquitex.

It is a removable, non-porous final varnish designed for use with oils and acrylics. It can be removed with mineral spirits or turpentine.

Hope this helps,
Will

Reply

Abhati November 23, 2012

Hello Will,
Thanks so much for your help. I will work on both the mediums the way u recommended.
I will now try to practice more with acrylics only as it drys faster and gathers less dust since i live in a semi-arid climate.
I really appreciate your help.

Regards,
Abhati

Reply

Will Kemp November 23, 2012

You’re welcome Abhati, one thing I forgot to mention was the isolation coat will form a barrier to the oil paint ‘grabbing’ onto the canvas, so when you apply the isolation coat you would have to carefully brush around the sections you are going to continue to paint with oil. This way the oil paint with form a good bond. I’d do a couple of practice pieces first before experimenting on a fully worked up portrait!

Cheers,
Will

Reply

abhati November 24, 2012

HI Will,
Yes you are right, that’s what I thought as I am not used to working with the isolation coat or varnish, I do need to practice with some smaller pieces first. Even though I have managed to paint for a few years without using the coating, I am very curious to know more about it. Your articles help me learn and expand my knowledge on painting and the best part is there is no end to learning.

Thanks so much,
Abhati

Reply

Will Kemp November 24, 2012

Good one Abhati

Reply

sam January 6, 2013

Hello! I’ve been painting for a while and just recently started using varnishes to seal my work. I’ve come to notice it can make some of my work run (usually only when I’ve used more watered down acrylics). If I use an isolation coat, will this prevent the runnage?

Reply

Will Kemp January 6, 2013

Hi sam,

When Acrylic paint dries it forms like a plastic surface so would never ‘run’ in with a wet layer on top.

The only thing I can think of is were you using an Open Acrylic or Atelier Interactive Acrylics as these both have a curing time, when they appear dry they can still be reactivated when you add water on top.

An isolation coat is used between the acrylic paint and varnish, but will still run if your paint isn’t fully cured.

Cheers,

Will

Reply

Judith February 7, 2013

If my gloss varnish is too shiny can I then spray a matte or satin varnish as the second coat to make the painting less shiny? Will this affect the blacks in the painting? Will it make my painting less clear which I definitely don’t want?

Thanks,

Judith

Reply

Will Kemp February 8, 2013

Hi Judith,

Yes, you can add another coat of semi-gloss or matte varnish ontop. It will effect the blacks though and make them appear lighter. The matting agent in both ( less in the semi-gloss) can sometimes add a slightly milky finish. This doesn’t happen every time, just if the matting agent isn’t mixed thouroughly in. If you’re painting is very dark I’d make a test canvas just painted black and try a few alternatives of varnish, this is the safest way to go to guarantee you won’t have any clouding with the varnish.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

james millward March 15, 2013

Hi Will, thanks for the email you sent with your advice about isolation coats, that was very kind of you to take the time… I really like your website here, I would like to add a tip to people here about isolation coats.

It is always worth mixing the isolation coat slowly (as Will advises) this limits bubbles, but I would add, its best to mix it 24 hours before use as this allows unwanted air bubbles to escape and you don’t want air bubbles in the isolation coat!

Good Luck!

Reply

Will Kemp March 18, 2013

Cheers Jim, good tip!

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Charles Tashiro May 14, 2013

Very helpful, thanks for posting this information.

Sorry to ask a stupid question, but I’m new to this. Is it better to varnish before or after stretching the canvas on a mount?

Reply

Will Kemp May 14, 2013

Hi Charles, the varnish would be applied right at the end of the painting process, so the canvas would have already been stretched onto the stretcher bars.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Donna Slade May 14, 2013

Hi Will,

I am an artist and decorative painter. I am finishing a large painting for a client that is in acrylics. In my decorative painting business, I have applied final topcoats (on walls for faux finishes or murals), and have used sealers between coats on some finishes. I normally use Faux Effects products. (I normally do murals, not individual paintings) I have a variety of topcoats, all water based. They are in gloss, satin, and dull. I’m planning on a satin. Wasn’t sure if an isolation coat is really necessary. With wall finishes, I know it keeps colors from moving, but this painting doesn’t seem as delicate as some glazed finishes that will move without an isolation coat. Can I get by with a basic satin finish, or is an isolation coat absolutely necessary?

I’d appreciate your opinion.

Thanks!
Donna

Reply

Will Kemp May 22, 2013

Hi Donna,

The isolation coat is more for ease and smoothness of application of the varnish and removal of the varnish.

It isn’t absolutely necessary to put an isolation coat on if you’re using a top coat as this will protect the painting and has great Ultra Violet Light protection.

The satin will give you a nice finish, so go for it!

Cheers,

Will

Reply

Michelle May 17, 2013

Hi Will,
Im currently painting a large (1.2m x 1.8m) outdoor mural on marine ply with some local primary school children. We have used acrylics and are really pleased with the work so far. We want to hang the murals on the wall outside . What would you recommend for varnishing something of this size…bearing in mind the usual school budget restrictions!
Thanks
Michelle

Reply

Will Kemp May 19, 2013

Hi Michelle, for that size canvas a single can of spray varnish should do the job if you’ve got a well ventilated space to spray in. The liquitex removable varnish is a good choice as it can be used both internally and externally. It’s also available in tubs if you prefer using a brush.

Good luck with the mural,

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Sasha May 18, 2013

Hello Will

I just completed painting a table top with acrylic paint. While in process, I gently and briefly dabbed at a small smudged area of fresh paint with a very slightly damp cloth to remove it. I was stunned when it not only removed the fresh paint but also the layer of acrylic beneath it (that had been dry for over 24 hours). I was able to repair the spot but wondered why this happened. In the process of trying to figure out what went wrong. I found out that the carpenter who made my tabletop gave it a base coat of an oil-based paint.

I am not an experienced painter – this is a one-off project for my home – so I am a bit stymied about how to seal the table once I’ve finished painting it. I am afraid that whatever varnish I use will lift the acrylic layers under it as they are not bonded well with the oil-based base coat.

A potential problem is that I am in the middle east in a country where there is not a large selection of art products. I can get gel medium – although probably not a reputable brand.

Do you recommend sealing the table with gel medium – and, if so, what sealant can I put over that? It needs to be well-sealed because it is a dining table, subject to food spills, etc.

Any tips would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!

Reply

Will Kemp May 23, 2013

Hi Sasha,

I can sympathize, having painted many a reclaimed furniture piece!!

Painting acrylics over the top of an oil based paint can sometimes lead to this sort of problem on tables, etc…. I’ve found using a brush can lift off the acrylic layer with the slightest of tampering, even gently rubbing can result in a flaked paint layer.

As you need the table to be well-sealed and washable, I would advise 1 or 2 thin coats of spray varnish (intended for furniture) first, then when that’s well dry, you should be safe to brush on a decent, thicker top coat of varnish with a soft brush, to seal the deal.

You don’t need to use art products, it’s more the friction of application that leads to problems, which is why I always find spraying varnish onto delicate work the best solution.

You could spray it all and build up the layers but it’s often more costly this way, you could always buy a can and see how far you get with it.

Hope this helps and good luck,

Will

Reply

Shannie June 1, 2013

HELP!
I’m at my witts end!
I’ve done a MASSIVE painting 15foot by 5foot on faux leather with acrylic. . . . . It doesn’t get easier. . . . It then needs to be functional ie roll ed up and stored when not in use BUT walked on when in use! What can I put as a protective layer over the top to stop it sticking to itself? But at the same time be strong enough to withstand the rolling, unrolling/walking?
Please please help. Any advice would be grateful.

Thanks

Reply

Will Kemp June 4, 2013

Hi Shannie,

This is a tricky one as most varnishes will always have a tendency to stick when rolled, I’d suggest trying a sheet of thin silky fabric laid onto the piece of faux leather before rolling.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Shannie June 4, 2013

Thanks for your reply Will.

Wouldn’t the silk stick to the acrylic? Is there nothing I could coat/paint it with to protect it? I’m absolutely lost so please forgive my ignorance, I would even try yacht varnish if I thought it would coat it and stop the acrylic sticking to itself when rolled.
Thanks again for your help and my apologies in advance for the naive questions.

Shannie

Reply

Will Kemp June 12, 2013

Hi Shannie, if you’re worried about the silk sticking you could always use stiffish piece of plastic (like the plastic sheet you’d cover the floor for decorating) or a spare bit of unpainted canvas.

Also, roll is loosely with the painting facing outwards, rather than the painting facing inwards.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Shannie June 12, 2013

Hi again……humour me here…(what do you mean again!)

Just an after thought but would a clear PVA glue work? The theory being that acrylic is porous and the PVA would seal and coat it in a flexible, wipe clean, durable layer??? (maybe? hopefully? possibly? no?)

Dementedly yours,

Shannie

Reply

Will Kemp June 14, 2013

Hi Shannie,
Personally I wouldn’t use PVA glue due to archival issues and would use an isolation coat (soft gel gloss acrylic medium)

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Lucy June 10, 2013

Hi,

I painted a large painting with acrylic paints – I would like to use some pastels on top in small amounts. Can I top both the acrylic and pastels with self leveling gel? I like that shiny finish and have used it in two coats on acrylic paintings then varnished… but I am not sure it will work with pastels?

Reply

Will Kemp June 12, 2013

Hi Lucy,

I personally haven’t tried it myself, but I would just try a tester piece and see what happens. You might find the pastel needs a fixtative before pouring on the self levelling gel to make sure you don’t get any unwanted smudgings! Maybe try one with fixative, one with out and see what happens.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Ben Smith June 12, 2013

Good morning Will,

I recently completed several acrylic paintings, and now considering varnishing them for protection. I have never varnished before, but would look to use a spray.

I am having issues on deciding which varnish to use, be it satin or matte? I don’t want to use a gloss, as I don’t want a shiney/glasss effect to the painting.

Can you give me a definitive guide on the pros and cons of satin and matte please?

With very best wishes,
Ben

Reply

Will Kemp June 12, 2013

Hi Ben,

The only real difference (apart from the aesthetic finish) is the the matt varnish has a greater chance of giving blacks in the painting a milky effect. If your paintings are quite light in tone this won’t be an issue. However, if you have applied an isolation coat to the painting the varnish will cover more easily and you won’t run the risk of the matting agent (which is white) grabbing onto any absorbant areas of your canvas.

The best advice it to try them both on a couple of small test pieces. This way you can judge the sheen you want, and if you want to get super specific you can get a tub of matt and a tub of satin varnish and intermix them untill you achieve the perfect sheen you’re after.

Good luck with the varnishing!

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Dom June 20, 2013

Hi

I’m finishing up making a longboard and I’ve put acrylic paint onto it and now I’m varnishing it and i was wondering if it will work?

Cheers
Dom

Reply

Will Kemp June 20, 2013

Hi Dom, if it’s for a longboard and you’re not intending on removing the varnish in the future for aesthetic reasons I would be tempted to use a yacht varnish.

It will be more affordable than the acrylic painting varnish, might yellow slightly, but gives really good protection.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Swapniel June 23, 2013

Hi,
I just finished the first acrylic painting, but I dont have any varnish :( I guess the paint will dry before I can buy it…is there any way i can save it ?
For my watercolour paintings, I used to spray some transparent glue in water mixture..dont know it will work for acrylics or not…

Reply

Will Kemp June 23, 2013

Hi Swapniel, your painting will be fine without varnish for a while, so don’t worry too much, the acrylic forms a strong bond when it dries. The Varnish is to protect the surface for the future.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Swapniel June 29, 2013

I went for shopping yesterday for the acrylic’s mediums etc..And I did some mistake in choosing … I bought the varnish which says ‘gloss varnish for oil paintings’, and I bought the gloss medium instead of the gel…
I can’t use the medium as an alternative of gel I guess… But the oil’s varnish will do or I need particularly acrylic varnish?

Reply

Will Kemp June 30, 2013

Hi Swapniel, I definitely wouldn’t use the oil varnish on your acrylics, you need one specifically for acrylics. You can intermix acrylic gels and acrylic mediums fine on your paintings.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Swapniel July 1, 2013

Oh okay, I will look for one specifically for acrylics. Until then I am just keeping the paintings wrapped in cellophane, I hope it will protect them from dust…

Reply

Amelia July 27, 2013

Hello,

I recently finished painting a wooden piano bench with acrylic paints and wanted to seal it with varnish. Is it necessary to put an isolation coat, or will it be okay to just apply the varnish?

Reply

Will Kemp July 27, 2013

Hi Amelia, no you shouldn’t need an isolation coat, you’ll be good to go straight away with the Varnish, unless you want to remove and replace the varnish in the future.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

deborah franklin July 30, 2013

Will,
Do I need to do more than one coat of varnish?
Thanks,
Deborah

Reply

Will Kemp July 30, 2013

It depends on the finish you are after, if you’re trying to get a deep gloss glass-like effect I’ve known artist apply 30 – 40 coats, however, often one or two coats will suffice for most applications.

Reply

Sarah September 24, 2013

hi will
please what is an isolation coat I have finished my first acrylic painting

Reply

Will Kemp September 24, 2013

Hi Sarah, an isolation coat is a barrier you apply to your painting which aids smooth application of a varnish, and allows for easy varnish removal and cleaning in the future. her’s an article about applying an isolation coat.

Cheers,

Will

Reply

Joanna Adshead October 12, 2013

Hi Will,

I’m a hobbyist painter but exhibiting for the first time in a joint exhibition late November 2013.

I have been reading your website Q&A’s and have found them very illuminating. I was not aware that acrylic paints need to cure. I have been having issues with one of my painting techniques – I drip paint onto a wet surface for the beautiful effects it produces, however, I have found that the colours are not fast and was really worried about varnishing them. These paintings were finished July/August and are being exhibited late November. Please can you advise me regarding when and how to varnish.

As I have found that the colours are not fast I was wondering if a spray varnish might work so that I don’t have to move the paint, or would you suggest some method of fixing the paint first? I have used Daler Rowney Cryla Artists Acrylic (the paintings are on canvas). I was planning on doing test pieces with the varnish first but if the paint needs time to cure then testing won’t work as I don’t have any pieces with watery effects already done in test.

Should I apply an isolation coat? I think it unlikely that purchasers will want to remove and re-apply varnish.

I have used metallic acrylic paints in some of my pictures, would you recommend a satin or a gloss varnish? I also have one piece with a lot of black and payne’s grey in it so I’m not keen on using a matte varnish. Some of the metallics have been applied over texture (3d fabric paint so the texture is not very deep).

Your advice would be much appreciated, Jo

Reply

Will Kemp October 14, 2013

Hi Jo,

Pleased you’ve been enjoying the website, when you say ‘the colours are not fast’ could you clarify?

Will

Reply

Jo Adshead October 22, 2013

Hi Will, thanks for replying so quickly, sorry for my late reply, I’ve been on holiday in Greece. By the colour not being ‘fast’ I just meant that the colour runs if I get it wet or touch it with a wet brush or add more colour. I haven’t touched these pieces for 2 to 3 months, how long does acrylic take to ‘cure’ if it was applied very wet? Hope this clarifies, regards Jo

Reply

Will Kemp October 22, 2013

Hi Jo,

Mmm, very strange, that’s what I thought you meant.

Acrylic is usually touch dry in a few minutes and fully cured in 24 hours, unless the paint is particularly thickly applied.

Acrylics dry by evaporation, if they were applied very wet they would dry even quicker.

The only acrylics that ‘re-open’ when wet are Golden OPEN acrylics or Atelier Interactive acrylics, what brand are you using?

Will

Reply

Patty October 21, 2013

Hi Will,
I put an isolation coat on my painting, waited a few days and then brushed on Golden Satin Varnish per the instructions. In spite of being careful, I have many many tiny bubbles. Where did I go wrong, and is there any way to fix it?
Patty

Reply

Patty October 21, 2013

Opps! Told you the wrong varnish – it’s Liquitex Satin Varnish so it’s permanent. Could I very lightly sand it with very fine sandpaper and then re-varnish?

Reply

Will Kemp October 23, 2013

Personally I wouldn’t sand the surface as it would dull the surface of the varnish, the only way to try with a super fine wet and dry paper would be to apply the varnish to a scrap piece of card/canvas with bubbles in the varnish and then test onto this, but you would still loose the clarity of the varnish.

Reply

Will Kemp October 23, 2013

Hi Patty, the tiny bubble can come if you’ve miked the varnish, but haven’t let all the foam bubbles pop out before applying.

Reply

Kareina Day October 24, 2013

Hi Will – i have read and researched many sites however i am still not sure what varnish is best for my current work using cut and reassembled book covers. I have been sealing the finished work with diluted PVA glue and then using Galeria matt varnish by Windsor Newton. I feel the finished result is too flat. I need to preserve the beautiful colours of the book covers. Any suggestions would be appreciated – all my work is using non traditional materials in mixed media assemblages. Thank you, Regards, Kareina

Reply

Will Kemp October 24, 2013

Hi Kareina, a matt varnish will always dull the colours you’ve painted, whereas a gloss varnish will make the colours appear more vibrant. I would make a sample swatch of matte / satin and gloss over the same solid colour so you can judge which effect it best for your book project.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Eileen Murray November 14, 2013

For Acrylic paintings which would you recommend, Matte of Gloss varnish?

Reply

Will Kemp November 15, 2013

Hi Eileen, it is an entirely personal choice, depending on the mood, feel and finish you’re trying to achieve. Both will protect the painting, a gloss varnish will bring out the colours in the paints more.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Erin November 21, 2013

Hi Will,

I just varnished two acrylic paintings. One was small and very easy to varnish. (I used Golden). It came out great. The other was 16X20 I believe, and it was a disaster. Some of the paint, which had been dry for weeks, actually came off when I stroked the varnish brush across the surface. Is there any way to prevent this in the future? Was the isolation coat not thick or even enough?

Thanks for your help,
Erin

Reply

Will Kemp December 2, 2013

Hi Erin,

How strange, when you have an isolation coat applied (I usually apply a couple of coats) the varnish ‘sits’ ontop, so the paint brush doesn’t actually touch the paint, it touches the isolation coat. Think of it like laying a sheet of glass over your painting and then painting a varnish ontop of the glass, it couldn’t take off what’s underneath the ‘glass’. So a thicker isolation coat sound like it would be the answer.

Cheers,

Will

Reply

iris December 2, 2013

I varnish all my acrylic paintings. I use a satin or gloss varnish. I’ve tried different brands. The last one I used was by Liquitex. The problem I am having is that after applying the varnish my white paints are turning lavender or pinkish if I’ve painted over a darker color (especially black or red). What can I do to prevent that from happening? Is there a specific type varnish I should be using? Thanks in advance.

Reply

Will Kemp December 4, 2013

Hi Iris,

Artist quality acrylic paints, once dry, shouldn’t then bleed other colours as they create a plastic resist. out of interest which brand are you using?

Also, have you applied an isolation coat first?

Cheers,

Will

Reply

help! December 4, 2013

I want my painting to have a slightly aged look. Where can I find a varnish that leaves a slightly yellowed tint. I have been searching online for hours and am beginning to feel like I’m the only one who has ever wanted the the yellowing.

Reply

Will Kemp December 6, 2013

Most natural varnishes will yellow with age, but it can take a while to happen. My advice would be to apply a glaze of a muted yellow to the whole of your painting to give the yellowing effect and then to apply a standard varnish ontop – instant Old master!

Reply

Sophia December 14, 2013

Hi Will,

First off – thanks for this website! I just starting painting again after completing one portrait four years ago and then convincing myself I was rubbish ^.^. I’m loving being back into it again and have picked up loads of great tips from your site which I am slotting into my method and learning.

I have just applied isolation coats (with the soft gel gloss) to a couple of my newest paintings with a view to varnishing them tomorrow. I’ve don’t have any spray, so have read the brush method here.

My question is – have you ever used a sponge to apply varnish to paintings? I saw a video showing the method the other day with someone using a very slightly damp sponge, putting some varnish on the sponge and then rubbing it over the painting, the idea being that it is quick and even application. Just wondering if this was something you would recommend, or should I stick to brush method?
One of the paintings I want to varnish is my very first commission, (which took ages!) so I don’t want to mess it up! :)

Thanks for any help!

Sophia

Reply

Will Kemp December 15, 2013

Hi Sophie,

Yes if its a water based varnish and a fairly small painting you’ll be able to get an even finish with a sponge. Just work in thin layers and build up slowly.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Andy December 28, 2013

Hi Will
Great site! Your follow up on all of these questions is great!!
I have just painted a very large 2m x 2m acrylic canvas. Most of the painting is a very dark charcoal almost black colour, (atelier interactive acrylics) and the problem is that it has dried very patchy. Some areas totally matte while others are slightly glossy. Is varnishing my best option to achieve a uniform finish. if so, is an isolation layer essential? and is there a way to ensure that the varnish will not dry patchy as it is such a large area? i think id have to rule out spray as i only want to varnish the dark colour. Any advice greatly appreciated :-)

Reply

Will Kemp December 30, 2013

Hi Andy,

Pleased you’ve been enjoying the site.

If you have a read of this article, and then a read of the comments you’ll see this link to the best recommendations for varnishing and applying an isolation coat specifically with Atelier Interactive.

Hope it helps,

Will

Reply

Judy December 29, 2013

Hi Will,
I would like to know how long do you need between vanish coats …..I have been applying them as soon as my paintings feel dry but they seem to be tacky and some of them I completed months ago. I paint in acrylics, I do use an isolation coat and 3 coats of vanish.
Regards Judy

Reply

Will Kemp December 30, 2013

Hi Judy, varnishes can vary depending on manufacturer and how thick you apply the varnish. But most waterbased varnishes dry after 24hours.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Sung Kim December 29, 2013

Hi Will,
I have used UNI POSCA pens on my acrylic paintings around 5 months ago. Now I applied varnish paint on it but it was dissolved because that pen line was not dried enough. I did not apply isolation coat so how can I remove that varnish paint?
I used Liquitex high gloss varnish.
For my other paintings, how can I varnish them? I used that pens for my all acrylic paintings.
I can not apply isolation coat because I am afraid it happen again.
So I am thinking of spray varnish. Is that good idea? Without isolation coat, it can be removed for future repainting?
Your advice will be much appreciated.
Kind regards,
Sung

Reply

Will Kemp December 30, 2013

Hi Sung, it depends on the Varnish that was used – if it was a removable or non-removable varnish. You might this article helpful to understand the differences.

The Posca pens are water-based so this could be the reason why the varnish was dissolving/altering the finish. It might be worth emailing Posca direct to see what they recommend for the best protection of the pigments they use in the pen. Let me know if you find out any recommendations from them.

Cheers,

Will

Reply

Sung Kim January 13, 2014

Hi Will,
I sent email to posca but no reply. I am not going to use it any more.
Thanks for your advice.

Regards,
Sung

Reply

Will Kemp January 13, 2014

Hi Sung, what a shame they didn’t get back, thanks for letting me know.
Will

Reply

Tracy January 10, 2014

I followed the directions for golden archival matte spray varnish on an acrylic painting on wood panel but after several weeks its still tacky. I am planning on using the surface as a desk top so I need it to be hard. What would you recommend?
Thank you Will

Reply

Will Kemp January 16, 2014

Hi Tracy,

Mmm, I’m not sure why the Matte varnish is still tacky after several weeks, have you tried Golden technical support? they are super helpful for product specific info.

Let me know if you find out why its still tacky.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Kellsie February 9, 2014

Hey Will!
I’ve found this article and the one about the isolation coat to be very helpful! So thank you so much for writing these! I just finished my first ever Acrylic painting on a canvas and I want to make sure it doesn’t get damaged from dust or anything! Haha. So, I noticed that you provided the exact brand of isolation coat you use (Golden Soft Gel Gloss) and I have ordered that. But I was wondering what exact brand of varnish you use. If you could help me out with that it would be greatly appreciated!
Thanks!
Kellsie

Reply

Will Kemp February 9, 2014

Hi Kellsie,

Have a read through this article on my varnish choices with acrylics.

Cheers,

Will

Reply

Shelley February 9, 2014

Hi Will, I have been read all your recommendations regarding varnishing acrylic paintings and taken them on board. I paint using two very different techniques. One with palette knives, thick layers of paint mixed with varying mediums and/or fibres and the other by heavily diluting the paint with water and various flow enhancers. I am currently working on two separate collections but all the paintings to date are left unvarnished as I am scared of ruining them, particularly the heavily watered, more pastel like ones which use a lot of Paynes Grey in various dilutions. Any advice you can direct specifically for those in terms of isolation and then varnishing would be invaluable. Many thanks :-)

Reply

Will Kemp February 9, 2014

Hi Shelly,

You don’t need to varnish the paintings, but what I would do is make a few mini tester pieces (about 6 inch square) they can be on thick card and then you can create ‘extreme’ versions of your larger works. So one with very thick impasto paint, one with super thin wash layers. Then experiment with the different finishes, spray varnish or isolation coat, gloss or matte, varnish or no varnish, until you find the perfect finish you’re after.

Hope this helps,

Will

Reply

Deb February 20, 2014

Hi Will,
I am doing mixed media collages on masonite board using the Golden Acrylics. I put the Golden Self Leveling Gel on as a topcoat and don’t use varnish. I’m wondering if you know whether or not the gel topcoat will become tacky at outdoor shows where the temperatures can be upwards of 90 degrees. Would a varnish stand up to these temps better?
Likewise, do cold outdoor temperatures affect the Gel and/or varnish coats?
I can’t seem to get answers from the Golden website or their reps.
Thank you,
Deb

Reply

Will Kemp February 22, 2014

Hi Deb, I couldn’t say 100% as I personally haven’t tested the Gel to that level of heat. The Mineral spirit varnishes usually always dry to a harder surface than polymer varnishes or gels so would be less likely to tack up. The Golden technical advice would probably be the best bet. I would also be temped to make a couple of test pieces with the self levelling gel and take keep it outside and check the temperature and tackiness.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

deborah franklin March 1, 2014

Hi Will, I saw a youtube video of someone varnishing with a sponge and it was so quick. I was wondering what you thought of this method.

Reply

Will Kemp March 3, 2014

Hi Deborah,

I touch briefly on the pros and cons of a sponge on this article:

Q. Do you ever a use a sponge to apply an isolation coat?

A. No, a sponge has the tendency to cause froth and bubbles in the isolation coat, but can be used when applying certain water-based varnishes.

If you’re working with a fluid polymer varnish and not applying an isolation coat then it can work.

Cheers,

Will

Reply

Gareth Price March 3, 2014

Hello Will! I have a question about re-painting?
I recently finished an acrylic ( mainly normal Atelier interactive ) on canvas work, then put about 3 layers of spray varnish on it ( I used Schmincke gloss acrylic 50 580 ) but I have since decided to re-do a couple of parts. I wasn’t even aware of an isolation coat, so haven’t done that. Oops!

My question is – do I need to remove the varnish on the areas I wish to re-do? Or can I simply paint over the varnish and then re-spray the whole thing?
Alternatively, is there a product that I can paint onto the varnish to make it workable with acrylics again without the need for removal?

Also, a tip that I found for spray-varnishing is to put the can submerged almost completely in hot water before using it. I had HEAPS of trouble with droplets and spots and this was a great solution!

Many thanks Will

regards

Gareth Price!

Reply

Will Kemp March 5, 2014

Hi Gareth,

Nice to hear from you, for Atelier acrylics its a bit different because of the re-wetting qualities of the paint. You might find this article from Marion Boddy-Evans helpful and this varnishing download from the Chroma website helpful.

You can’t apply a product to the varnish to make it re-workable again.

Hope the articles help,

Cheers,
Will

Cheers,

Reply

Gareth Price March 5, 2014

Many thanks Will!
regards

Gareth

Reply

Sung Kim March 5, 2014

I just painted over the varish and resplayed on it. It works O.K.
If you trying to remove varinish paints you will have problems with your acrylics paints. Acrylics also will be removed. especially Atelier….

Reply

Gareth Price March 6, 2014

Cheers Sung, I will probably give that a try…

Reply

Melissa Dinwiddie March 6, 2014

Hi Will,
What great info! Thank you for sharing your expertise so generously.

I make mixed media pieces, stretched canvas with acrylics, watercolor ground from Daniel Smith — an absorbent ground that allows me to use water soluble inks and watercolor paint, pastels, pencil, colored pencil, etc. Some pieces also include paper, and stitching with linen thread.

I really like the look of unframed stretched canvas, and I also paint the sides of the stretched canvas, so framing is not an option, but I want to protect my pieces from dust, UV, etc. as best as possible.

Given that my finished paintings are often not waterproof, how would you recommend varnishing? Ideally I’d like an isolation coat, but I’m afraid that using gel will cause the paints and inks to move.

Would it be appropriate to seal the surface with MSA spray varnish–as an initial isolation coat below the “protect the paint layer in the event of varnish removal” isolation coat, then apply a coat of gloss gel, then more layers of spray varnish after that?

Also, how should I advise my clients to dust/clean their paintings? Can a painting varnished with several layers of spray MSA be safely cleaned with a damp cloth?

Thanks so much!
Melissa

Reply

Will Kemp March 7, 2014

Hi Melissa,

Hope you’re doing well. For your mixed media pieces I wouldn’t personally recommend a varnish due to the watersoluble nature of your materials and the way the varnish can alter the aesthetics of the piece.

You might find this article of interest which is Golden Paints recommendations for varnishing watercolours.

Hope it helps,

Cheers,

Will

Reply

Deb March 10, 2014

Will,
Thank you for the information and your great advice. I agree, testing is always the best way to go.
Sincerely,
Deb

Reply

Will Kemp March 10, 2014

You’re welcome Deb,

Will

Reply

Natalie Ball March 19, 2014

Hi
I used up my satin varnish on a painting I did in two light coats but it is patchy in the light. Is it ok to apply a matt varnish on top please?

Thanks

Nat

Reply

Will Kemp March 19, 2014

Hi Nat, yes you can apply a Matte varnish ontop of the satin varnish

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Jon R. Hallock March 20, 2014

I want to put an isolation coat over Gesso. It is acrylic paint too so is there any problem with the idea?
Thanks for lessons, tips and help. i’d be at a stand still with out it.

Reply

Will Kemp March 21, 2014

Hi Jon, you can put an isolation coat over gesso but you’ll then loose the absorbency and ‘tooth’ you would have achieved by applying the gesso and painting straight onto that.
Cheers,
Will

Reply

CC March 22, 2014

Hi Will,
I’m wondering if you have any advice on sealing oil paintings. I have a large oil painting on a wood panel and I’m not sure how and when to seal it. I was thinking polyurethane but I’m concerned about discoloration of the paint. I’m also wondering how long to let the painting dry before applying the seal. I’ve been using fast drying oil paints and mediums due to a time constraint. Any advice is appreciated! Thanks!
CC

Reply

Will Kemp March 24, 2014

Hi Cara,

You might find this article on varnishing oil paintings helpful.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

wendy March 30, 2014

My question is .
I have an acrylic painting, I would like to highlight areas with a silver metallic pen to
simulate chrome.
If I do this ,and wait correct amount of drying time (2 weeks)
When I varnish the painting with gloss.
Will the gloss smudge the areas where I used the silver?
thank you

Reply

Will Kemp March 30, 2014

Hi Wendy, the varnish might smudge the pen depending on the materials used in the pen. I would make a small test piece first just with the silver pen and then varnish just over that and see if it smudges. Alternatively you could use a silver acrylic paint.

Hope this helps,
Will

Reply

wendy March 30, 2014

Thank you
I guess I’m buy some acrylic silver .

Reply

Suzette March 31, 2014

Hi Will, If I decide to use a gloss gel over my finished acrylic painting do I have to then use a spray varnish or can I either just use a varnish or just use a gel gloss; Thank you
Suzette

Reply

Will Kemp March 31, 2014

Hi Suzette, if you decide to add an isolation coat of soft gel gloss, you can then apply either the spray varnish or brush varnish.
Cheers,
Will

Reply

Bethany Coles April 3, 2014

Hello Will,

I was hoping for some advice. I am making set dressing for an outdoor shakespeare production an need to make around 100 love letters to hang from trees that will be open to the lovely british summer time. I have spoken to some paper suppliers and they have suggested rag paper as the best way to go I was just wondering if some matte varnish over the top would make them more weather hardy? Also would the varnish cause ink to run on application?

Many thanks,
Bethany

Reply

Will Kemp April 3, 2014

Hi Bethany,

Personally if they’re going to be outside, I would opt for a simple solution of Matt laminating the letters, then trimming them very closely to the letter.

Varnishing them is an awful lot work that may cause running and wont be 100% weatherproof, however if you laminate them each letter would have to be smooth and not crumpled/ aged looking you might want.

Try one of each methods this week and hang them in your garden for a couple of weeks – so you can see what’s going to work aesthetically and practically!

Hope this helps,

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Pamela May 4, 2014

Hi Will,

I am a beginner, mostly painting for myself and family, so nothing super fancy. I toned a canvas with oil paint a year ago, but ended up not using it. I recently decided to do a painting with acrylics and used said canvas since I had it around. I know acrylics over oils is a no-no, but it’s already done, and was a very thin layer of oil. I’d like to varnish it, but am unsure how to go about it. Any feedback would be appreciated.

Thanks,
Pamela

Reply

Will Kemp May 7, 2014

Hi Pamela, personally I wouldn’t varnish it due to the acrylic/oil combination, but if you’d still like to go ahead a spray varnish would be your best bet that is suitable for both oils and acrylics.

Cheers,
Will

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Cindy May 21, 2014

Hi Will,
I am thoroughly impressed by your website and its clear, useful information. My first stop is always here when I have a painting concern!

I just started using acrylics and would like to varnish what I’ve done so far. I used Liquitex gloss varnish (acrylic polymer emulsion) and was told that I can simply clean the brush with soap and water. It became gummy as soon as the water touched the bristles. After using olive oil and lots of soap and painstakingly picking at the brush I managed to get most of it out. There must be a better way?! Thanks.

Cheers,
Cindy

Reply

Will Kemp May 21, 2014

Hi Cindy, pleased you’ve been finding the website helpful, mmm, that’s strange, most acrylic polymer based varnishes will behave really well with soap and water. Was it just with this one brand?

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Lindsey May 25, 2014

Hi Will

I have applied imitation gold leaf onto a thinly painted acrylic ground. It didn’t stick very well as I used pva instead of size, as I had it in the house and had read somewhere that this would work. I want to paint acrylics over the top now, and I understand that if I use an MSA varnish, I can do this. I’m also hoping that this will help stabilise the flaky gold leaf. The patchy appearance of the gold leaf doesn’t bother me as intend to paint heavily over the top. Can i use Golden MSA varnish with UVLS without dulling the gold leaf?

many thanks!

Lindsey

Reply

Will Kemp May 29, 2014

Hi Lindsey, when working with gold leaf I usually use an Oil Gold Size (I use one from C. Robertson & Co) so haven’t personally tried to see how much ‘stick’ you get with PVA. My advice would be to have a small test piece with the PVA and the Gold Size, spray with the varnish and then carry on. However, another point to note is the varnish is designed as a final gloss finish, so will give you a slippy surface to work onto and will make it harder for the acrylics to adhere.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Jan May 28, 2014

Hi Will,
I am an oil painter – however i just completed a VERY large acrylic piece – and asked advice from a group of other professional artists who use acrylic exclusively about varnishing- was told to do an isolation coat. As this painting is so large using a brush really was not practical so i was told to use a short nap de-linted “long john” roller- the kind that is about an inch or so in diameter. Not a foam roller. And I used Golden Gloss Poly medium that I had thinned a bit – as I was planning on a couple of coats – and stirred, not shaken it- it is about 80 % medium and 20 % water (the medium itself right out of the jar is fairly runny so I did not want to thin it too much) all of which fell directly in line with what I was told to do by this group of artists… I only applied one coat, however an amount of the painting looks as if it has cloudy marks from the roller all over it. It is not quite dry yet – meaning not bone dry – it is dry to the touch, but not if you grab it – your fingers will stick to the surface a bit – and this is about 10 hours after I applied the medium isolation coat. Is there something I can do to eliminate the cloudiness? Do I have to repaint the whole thing? Can I sand the isolation coat down? Of COURSE I have a potential buyer for this painting showing up….HELP!

Reply

Will Kemp May 29, 2014

Hi Jan,

The ‘Golden Gloss Polymer medium’ is designed to have a more ‘oil-like’ feel and is used for creating glazes, extending colours etc, rather than as an isolation coat, which is why you might be having some of the ‘sticky’ feeling to the surface.

For an isolation coat I use ‘Soft Gel gloss’ diluted with water.

To answer your questions:

Is there something I can do to eliminate the cloudiness?

Unfortunately, no

Can I sand the isolation coat down?

Not really.

I know this doesn’t really help now, but with using any new varnish/materials I always make small sample test pieces and try out the materials before going in on the whole piece.

I do hope you can find a way around it, as you can paint over sections of the cloudiness.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Nadia Rapti May 30, 2014

Hi Will,
I find your site really helpful and I admire your passion of sharing your experience with anyone of interest. I need your advice on a matter concerning the isolation coat and the top varnish. I paint in acrylics using brushes and pallet knives as well as modelling paste and acrylic household pastes and the result has some kind of texture in particular places of the canvas. Because of this texture, I was wondering is it good to put the isolation coat with golden gloss medium or not and then is it better and safer to spray the varnish or shall I try and varnish it with a brush. I am also unsure whether is better to use a mat varnish or a glossy one. You could have a look at some of my paintings at http://www.saatchiart.com/account/artworks/651841.
thank you so so much
Nadia

Reply

Will Kemp June 1, 2014

Hi Nadia,

Thanks for your kind comments, your paintings don’t look too thick so you would be able to apply an isolation coat with a brush. The best thing to do is make a few small textural test pieces and paint varying thickness of paint on each. Then test with both spray and brush until you find the perfect mix for applying a varnish to your work.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Mela June 11, 2014

Hello! I am new to using acrylic mediums and varnishes and I came across your article. I varnished a piece recently and they looked great, but then I put them away in storage and a few of them got imprints from the wax paper between them. My question is — can I fix this issue just by adding another layer of varnish, or should I remove the current varnish layer (I used the Golden UVLS Gloss Varnish) and reapply?

Thank you for your insight!!!

Mela

Reply

Will Kemp June 12, 2014

Hi Mela, mmm, sounds a tricky one, as building up layers of varnish can often still show imprints through, but it would be easier to add an extra coat rather than remove the layer. I would try and ‘re-create’ the imprint on a scrap piece of canvas/board and then apply a couple of coats to see if it covers over the imprint.

Hope you can save you paintings!

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Addison July 2, 2014

Hello,
Thanks for all your wonderful information.

How long after applying varnish before it is safe to have the paintings touch each other in a storage rack, and before packing and shipping?

Thanks
Addison

Reply

Will Kemp July 3, 2014

Hi Addison, usually a few days after you’ve varnished you’ll be fine,

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Verity July 11, 2014

Hi Will

Just want to say how fab your website is – its literally a life saver!

Quick question on varnishing – I’m about to ‘do’ my first one and thought I’d use a roller (it’s how I apply gesso and background and creates a perfect smooth surface)

Planning to test on an old piece I’m not too worried about destroying but thought I’d see if you had any thoughts first?

Verity x

Reply

Will Kemp July 12, 2014

Hi Verity,

Thanks for your kind comments, I personally wouldn’t use a roller because it can often cause the varnish to foam and give you lots of tiny bubbles that can leave round marks in the varnish surface. The extent of foam can vary depending on brand of varnish / roller, so give it a test because on some acrylic medium based varnishes they can work okay.

Cheers,
Will

Reply

Hardy Jones July 18, 2014

I finally put some varnish on a few of my paintings and photos I’d transferred to canvas. I first did an isolation coat of soft gloss gel as Will suggested. That made the images a bit reflective so I turned to a matte varnish. Too flat. So I laid down a satin varnish and got the perfect result.

Reply

Will Kemp July 19, 2014

Great one Hardy, pleased you found the sheen that suited you best.
Cheers,
Will

Reply

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